Walk This Way !

Who among us has not been nearly yanked off our feet but an over exuberant dog ! Being a dog is all about joy and getting where you are going as fast as you possibly can. If you have 4 legs why not use them ? The pathetic bi-ped holding on for dear life in your wake can just hurry along right ? Well, not so much….

If you’ve attempted to walk a high energy dog who is curious about everything in his path and attempts to drag you around the neighborhood to see the sights it might be time to teach him some leash manners ! There are not many among us who look forward to walks with a dog we can barely control and honestly the dogs aren’t all that happy either. Though they look like they are having a good time many dogs who are out of control get into all kinds of trouble on leash which causes them alot of anxiety making the problem far worse then it needs to be. This week we are going to stop the insanity !!  Time to teach your dog some leash manners.

I have good news and bad news. The good news is that it isn’t very hard to teach a dog to walk nicely on a leash.  The bad news is it isn’t very interesting or exciting work and requires a lot of practice to get good at it. However, the payoff will be a dog that walks with you on your adventures so that you enjoy rather than dread your neighborhood constitutionals.

First of all do yourself a huge favor and invest in an Easy Walk Harness by Premier. They can be found in most pet stores and though they are a little pricey they are worth every penny.  They come in small, medium, large and x large as well as in between sizes labeled Small/Medium and Medium/Large. The tweener sizes can be purchased either online or through the MSPCA in Boston or Methuen (call first to check on availability). This harness has the leash clip in the front of the chest, which helps the dog learn not to pull by changing his center of gravity. When he pulls it makes him feel off balance so he slows down a bit. Is it a miracle ? No, you will still have to teach him to walk nicely next to you but you’ll have the advantage because he won’t be pulling quite so much and you will have more opportunities to reward him.

When you start teaching your dog to walk nicely on a leash, attach the leash to either his regular collar or to the harness and start walking. As soon as you notice that your dog is next to you, even for a second, click, stop and deliver the treat right next to your leg. Be exaggerated about where he will get his reward, you want him to be coming and getting his treat right on your pant seam. This builds value for being next to you. Remember your dog has zero value for walking with you right now. It’s boring to walk so slowly and it’s not very exciting to be hanked around. Each click for walking with you and each treat delivery right on your leg will be building up a bank account of value for walking with you rather than pulling your arm off.  If your dog starts to pull, turn and walk in the opposite direction and look down, when he catches up to you click, stop and deliver the treat on your leg.  Repeat this until your dog starts to understand the game. You ‘ll know when you gets it because he won’t be pulling as much and he’ll keep looking up at you to make sure he knows where you are going next.  Feel like a ping pong ball because your dog is launching to the end of the leash over and over again ? Slow it down and click and treat him every step or two at first so that he gets lots of reinforcement for slowing down and walking with you. Don’t try to build alot of steps at once, go for just 1 or 2 at first and then mix in the longer ones sporadically so that he never knows how long he must stay with you to get you to click.

Pay attention to the environment that you are working your dog in. If you have an excitable dog you can’t start outside on the street it’s too busy and you won’t get much teaching accomplished because your dog will be too distracted. Start indoors or in an empty parking lot and build a few steps at a time. Still struggling because he wants to yank you to ever sniffing spot ? When he hits the end of the leash, freeze in place and turn away from him. Wait until he finds you by looking back at you and click, then lure him in with a treat delivered close to your leg in the new direction. Some dogs need to practice this over and over again until he isn’t interested in exploring as much as he is interested in what you have. If you use really good treats and a hungry dog this will happen sooner than you know it.

Teaching your dog to walk nicely on a leash is about patience and repetition. It’s one of those behaviors that you just have to practice over and over again so that your dog gets good at it. Hope that this entry starts you well on your way to some pleasant strolls around your neighborhood. Happy walking !

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